Where to See the Best Public Art

Douglas Coupland, "Digital Orca," Vancouver, Canada. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The height of summer is here, and with it, an influx of outdoor art installations in urban spaces worldwide. Cities often choose the warm-weather months to promote outdoor programming, engaging citizens and visitors in a hunt for urban treasures. Summer and fall are the perfect seasons to explore a city’s public art, or to travel to cities that boast exciting open air sculptures, murals, and festivals. Pack a picnic (or a suitcase) and explore our editors’ picks for the best public art to see this year – filled with some perennial favorites, and a few unexpected surprises.

Bogotá, Colombia

Colombia is home to many influential contemporary artists, including Fernando Botero and Doris Salcedo. The country’s capital, Bogotá, is also a center for art, boasting many public installations and exhibitions around the city. Botero himself donated 208 pieces of art in 2000 that were transformed into the Museo Botero, which is free and open to the public. Similarly, Salcedo often critiques the political climate both in Colombia and abroad with large-scale public installations and sculptures.

Chicago, Illinois

Anish Kapoor, “Cloud Gate,” Chicago, IL. Image via Pixabay.

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events dubbed 2017 the “Year of Public Art.” This initiative includes $1 million in funding for public art projects and an entire year’s worth of public art events like tours, exhibitions, and performances.

Extra Credit: After visiting Anish Kapoor’s famous “Cloud Gate” (also known as “The Bean”) in Millennium Park, make your way to the roof of the Art Institute of Chicago for their seasonal installation. This year, artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss have installed a snowman in a refrigerated vitrine, placed on the museum’s terrace. The installation is on view through October 15.

London, England

This summer is a particularly good time to visit London and explore public art. Frieze Sculpture, London’s largest outdoor exhibition, is free and open now through October 8. Twenty-three new works by 20th century and contemporary artists will be on display. Sponsors Art Fund, Art on the Underground, Frieze, the Mayor of London, and Sculpture in the City will provide a free companion to guide to help navigate the city’s art offerings.

Extra Credit: If you have time to spare, consider taking a walking tour of East London. Several guides offer street art tours through the neighborhood, which include works by Invader, Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Vhils, and more.

New York, New York

PAF40: Liz Glynn: Open House from Public Art Fund on Vimeo.

2017 marks the 40th anniversary of the Public Art Fund, a non-profit organization based in New York dedicated to bringing contemporary art experiences to the masses. To celebrate, the city is teeming with public art installations. Highly notable are Anish Kapoor’s installation “Descension,” a circular vortex of rushing water located in Brooklyn Bridge Park (through September 10), and Liz Glynn’s “Open House,” a collection of concrete furniture and arches inspired by the William C. Whitney Ballroom, former New York icon, now demolished. Glynn’s work remains on view now through September 24.

Extra Credit: New York institutions are hosting many sculpture exhibitions this summer. The Cantor Roof at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is covered by an installation by Argentinian artist Adrián Villar Rojas and the New York Botanical Garden is hosting the first major New York garden exhibition of Dale Chihuly’s work in a decade, both on view through October 29. For an especially immersive experience check out “Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium,” on view at the Whitney Museum until October 1.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Keith Haring, “We the Youth.” Completed in 1987 in collaboration with CityKids Foundation; restored in 2013 by the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Artwork © Keith Haring Foundation; image via Wikimedia Commons.

Philadelphia is known for its large collection of public murals, including one by street artist Keith Haring. Equally impressive is its public sculpture: LOVE Park was named for the iconic Robert Indiana sculpture that resides there (reopening September 2017), while a sister sculpture entitled “AMOR” was recently installed nearby. Just a short walk away, a giant clothespin by Pop artist Claes Oldenburg looms over office buildings and juxtaposes with the 19th century architecture of City Hall.

Vancouver, Canada

Douglas Coupland, “Digital Orca,” 2009, Vancouver, Canada. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Vancouver is ripe with public art, from an Os Gemeos silo mural to “Digital Orca,” created by Douglas Coupland. Another notable project: “The Birds,” a series of huge life-like sculptures by artist Myfanwy MacLeod that represent the threat that non-native species pose to new environments. In an effort to expand their already impressive catalogue of public works, the city put out an open call to artists for submissions of public project proposals in June of 2017.

Venice, Italy

2017 is a great year to visit Venice for its public art. Not only are many significant churches open to the public, but Venice is hosting the 57th annual Biennale Arte this year. Part of this iteration is artist Lorenzo Quinn’s “Support,” which consists of a huge pair of hands rising from the canal to support the sides of a building. In addition to being a piece of highly Instagram-able art, the work makes a statement about the impact of rising sea levels and climate change.

Washington, D.C.

Not only does Washington, D.C. boast countless national monuments and memorials, but the museums along the National Mall are free. The National Gallery of Art has an exceptional sculpture garden, which hosts Jazz in the Garden every Friday evening during the summer months (through August 25).